A Los Angeles judge on Tuesday issued a tentative decision ordering Donald Sterling's former companion V. Stiviano to return more than $2.6 million in gifts and cash she received from the former NBA team owner.
L.A. Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin Jr. ruled a home worth $1.8 million and more than $800,000 in luxury cars and cash gifts that Donald Sterling gave his 32-year-old companion were assets he shared with his wife, Shelly. He ordered Stiviano to turn them over to the Sterling Family Trust.
Stiviano contended that the gifts were made when the Sterlings were separated.
The judge was not swayed, finding that the couple didn't live separately "during any part" of 2011 through 2014.
"Their marriage had difficulties," wrote Fruin, noting Shelly Sterling's interview with Barbara Walters where she admitted being estranged from her husband.
"However, the parties continued to live together, to travel together, to hold parties together and to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together."
The court decision bookends a tumultuous year for 80-year-old Donald Sterling, a real estate magnate who owned the NBA's Clippers franchise for 33 years.
Public outcry erupted in April 2014 after TMZ.com posted a recording of Sterling scolding Stiviano for associating with African Americans in public. On the recording, Sterling warned Stiviano not to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.
In the ensuing uproar, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him for life and moved to force the sale of the team, which was held by the Sterling Family Trust.
Following a probate trial, a Los Angeles judge ruled Shelly Sterling had acted properly when she ousted her husband from the trust and said she had the authority to sell the Clippers. Former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer subsequently paid $2 billion for the team.
During the nearly 2 ½ years that Stiviano and Sterling were companions, he gave her a Bentley, a Range Rover and a Ferrari. He also bought her a Los Angeles duplex valued at $1.8 million.
Shelly Sterling contended Stiviano was her husband's mistress, but they denied it.
At trial, Stiviano argued family members contributed a portion of the home's payments. But the judge, after analyzing banking records and ledgers from Sterling's company – along with testimony from both Sterling and Stiviano – found the octogenarian alone had bought the property.
"Ms. Stiviano testified that Donald Sterling made payments to her or for her benefit that she acknowledged were gifts," Fruin said.
Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, announced the court decision Tuesday night.
"Shelly is thrilled with the decision," said O'Donnell, who also called it "a victory for the Sterling family."
Stiviano's attorney Mac Nehoray said his client would appeal the decision.
"We are very disappointed," Nehoray said in a statement. "Judges are supposed to interpret the law not make them."
The judge gave the parties 15 days to file objections or seek changes before his order becomes final.